America's newest capsule for astronauts rocketed Saturday toward the International Space Station on a high-stakes test flight by SpaceX. The only passenger was a life-size test dummy named Ripley, after the lead character in the Alien movies. SpaceX needs to nail the debut of its Crew Dragon capsule before putting people on board later this year, per the AP. This latest, flashiest Dragon is on a fast track to reach the space station Sunday morning, just 27 hours after liftoff. It will spend five days docked to the orbiting outpost before making a retro-style splashdown in the Atlantic next Friday—all vital training for the next space demo, possibly this summer, when two astronauts strap in. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the launch was "super stressful" to watch, but he's hopeful the capsule will be ready to carry people later this year.
"To be frank, I'm a little emotionally exhausted," Musk told reporters barely an hour after liftoff. "We have to dock to the station. We have to come back, but so far it's worked ... we've passed the riskiest items." NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, meanwhile, called it "a big night for the United States of America," adding, "We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011." Looking on from Kennedy's Launch Control were the two NASA astronauts who will strap in as early as July for the second space demo, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. As many as seven astronauts could eventually squeeze in, although four will be the norm once flights get going, allowing for a little cargo room. About 450 pounds of supplies are going up on this flight. Musk anticipates eventually selling Dragon rides to private citizens. (Read more SpaceX stories.)